Google launches music streaming service

Tech giant’s new service, unveiled at Google I/O developer conference, will be available for $9.99 a month in US

Google outstripped its arch-rival, Apple, with the launch of a subscription music streaming service on Wednesday while simultaneously mounting a threat to other providers such as Spotify.

Google outstripped its arch-rival, Apple, with the launch of a subscription music streaming service on Wednesday while simultaneously mounting a threat to other providers such as Spotify.

The service, labouring under the full name of Google Play Music All Access, was unveiled at Google I/O, the tech giant’s annual developer conference in San Francisco, where delegates also heard about significant updates to its search and mapping services.

Revealing the music service, Chris Yerga, Google’s engineering director, said users would be able to stream from a vast library on any device, using the Android operating system. “This is radio without rules. It’s as ‘leanback’ as you want to, or as interactive as you want to,” said Yerga. Users will be able to search for an artist and add tracks to their library. A “listen now” feature will create a mix of favourite artists or genres based on previously listened-to songs.

In the US, All Access will cost $9.99 a month after a 30-day free trial. Spotify Premium, a similar service, costs $9.99. Users who sign up by 30 June will get a reduced price of $7.99 per month. There was no immediate announcement of pricing in other territories. Google has signed licensing deals with music companies including Sony, Universal and Warner, and millions of songs will be available for the service, which will go live from Wednesday.

The announcement comes as Apple considers its own music service. The tech giants have become increasingly interested in subscription services thanks to the popularity of Spotify, which has more than six million paying subscribers and more than 24 million active users in 28 countries.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive of the UK-based BPI, which represents record labels, welcomed the announcement by Google. “Streaming is the fastest growing part of the £330m digital music sector in Britain,” he said, “with more than a million paying subscribers already and millions more enjoying free and ad-supported music. The entry of a player with the reach of Google will persuade many more consumers to experience having millions of songs to play instantly on their phone, tablet or PC.”

Google’s announcement was greeted with loud applause by developers in San Francisco, who began lining up to attend the sold-out Google I/O at 5am. Larry Page, the Google CEO, who has been suffering from a vocal-cords defect, made an unexpectedly long appearance at the conference, where he bemoaned the “negativity” which he believes is holding back the technology industry.

The company revealed that more than 900 million devices using Android had now been activated, up from 400 million a year ago. Hugo Barra, vice-president of Android product management, said 48 billion Android apps had now been installed worldwide. The 900m figure does not include tens of millions of smartphones in China which also use Android’s basic software – called “Android Open Source Platform” – but do not connect to Google’s services, and so cannot contact its “activation” servers.

Google unveiled new tools for developers including the ability to track people’s physical activity when they are carrying an Android device, a move that will usher in a new generation of fitness applications.

The company’s search service also received an update. Saying “OK Google” to an Android device will now trigger a voice recognition system. Personal information like flight reservations, package deliveries and theatre bookings will be easier to find with the improved search service.

Brian McClenden, Google’s head of maps, said its mapping service had been rebuilt “from the ground up”. Google Maps will pay greater attention to each individual’s personal use of the maps, highlighting places they frequently visit and making suggestions for other venues. The maps will change as they are used. Clicking on a museum will highlight other museums in the area, and users’ photos will also be displayed in the maps. The new functions will be rolled out in the coming months.